Economic Update – Fast-Track Chrysler Reorganization Stalls

The Chrysler reorganization and sale to Fiat, which was to have been a model of a quick turn-around, has hit a snag in the form of a court order by U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Pension funds that hold some of Chrysler’s secured loan are objecting to the goings-on, claiming it isn’t fair to them, and so petitioned Justice Ginsburg for the measure. It isn’t clear how long the temporary stay will delay the sale, or whether it will kill the sale, or whether the full court will reverse the stay in a few days. It’s unlikely, though, that the legal wrangling will affect the fate of the Chrysler dealerships slated for closing, or change the amount of real estate their closing will put on the market.In this age of lower expectations, clothier Men’s Warehouse managed to impress Wall Street today by reporting a decrease in net earnings of 47 percent during its fiscal 1Q09, when compared with 1Q08. The company’s U.S. same-store sales fell 4.7 percent. Those numbers was better than expected, and thus considered good news. Interestingly, the company’s clothing product sales fell 7.6 percent, but tuxedo rental sales increased 1.7 percent. Maybe weddings aren’t being postponed on account of a mere thing like the economy.The company is also in the midst of its own bit of grave-dancing. Through an affiliate, K&G Acquisition Corp, it recently outbid other interested parties and has agreed to pay $67 million to acquire the Filene’s Basement brand, plus as many as 20 store leases, the brand’s inventory, and a distribution center in Massachusetts.The J. Jill retail brand is also changing hands. Current owner Talbot’s Inc. has agreed to sell most of the assets of the brand to private-equity firm Golden Gate Capital for roughly $75 million. The buyer has said that it will close 75 bottom-of-the-barrel J. Jill stores, but will keep 204 of the existing stores open. Golden Gate has acquired about 20 multichannel retail operations for more than of $3.5 billion in recent years.The disposition of J. Jill by Talbot’s seems to represent a “cut your losses” strategy for the women’s clothier, considering that in early 2006, Talbot’s paid about $517 million for the J. Jill chain. It isn’t called a bubble for nothing. Wall Street was down most of the day on Monday, but spiked up toward the end of the trading day. The Dow Jones Industrial Average eked out a 1.36-point gain, or 0.02 percent. The S&P 500 and the Nasdaq were both in minor negative territory, losing 0.10 percent and 0.38 percent respectively.